bookwisdom7Shaykh Ahmad Abdur Rashid was invited to speak at a recent conference of shaykhs and scholars discussing the aphorisms in “The Book of Wisdom” –  Al Hikam of Shaykh Ahmad ibn Ata Illah as-Sakandari .

To hear Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid’s talk given at this conference:

The Aphorisms of Iskandari: Action Items for Today’s To-Do List

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 The full talk is availabe in downloadable pdf

THE APHORISMS OF IBN ATA’ILLAH ISKANDARI: ACTION ITEMS FOR TODAY’S TO DO LIST Lecture by Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid , ADAM Center, Herdon Virginia , 21 February 2009


It is an honor and privilege to sit before you to share some thoughts and insights on one of the most relevant texts, not only for one who pursues the way of tassawwuf, but for all Muslims who seek to understand the practical and secure way to live in modern society,  among people who are both Muslim and non Muslim; especially at this  time of great strain and challenges. The knowledge of the Hikam is one thing, but understanding the process of the Hikam and the way of thinking illustrated by Shaykh ibn’ata’illah Iskandari can and will change our perspective, our intentions, and our actions. It is here, in a process of trust and submission, in the context of our deepest Islamic core, that we can find the means for meeting the challenges of modern life; as as human beings, as Muslims, insh’Allah, as mu’min.

 The 93rd Aphorism

As we dive deep into the Hikam of Ibn Atala Iskandari, we find an incredible treasure of knowledge.  In some cases, we find it stated exactly in the opposite form that  we thought we would find (it stated) . It is important in the world we are living in, that we allow for the possibility of new perspectives,: a world in which we must change our perspective from one of probabilities, to one of possibilities; from distraction to attraction; from close mindedness to open inquiry, from distrust to trust and from submission to people to submission to Allah swt.  This kind of thinking is especially important if we are to realize that ‘seeking knowledge from the cradle to the grave’ (as the Prophet Mohammad (sal) enjoined) is a faith based inquiry that requires the courage to utilize critical thinking and critical inquiry skills. To ask hard questions of ourselves and our assumptions and seek fulfilling answers from the core of our hearts and the foundations of our belief.  Only if we do this will we truly be able to rectify the many misunderstandings and misinterpretations of Islam and Sufism, and reframe our deen to the original template of personal revelation and Allah’s dynamic Reality/Creation. Not only that, but we will be also able to fulfill our obligation and trust; to serve Allah (swt) by serving Allah’s Creation and Creatures.  To fulfill our role as Khalifa on this earth, as Allah reminds us in Sura al-Ahzab:

“Truly we offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they declined to bear it and feared it, and the human being [undertook it].  But he has been the oppressor [of himself and others] and ignorant.” (33:72)

Only when we do that can we be able to listen with ears that hear and see with eyes that can see, a teaching, a path, a Truth that is near to us, around us and within us. Allah (swt).

The proof of a lasting teaching lies in its applicability in every age and the means it unlocks in the hearts and minds of the seekers of Truth.  My dear friends, this Islam is certainly that Everlasting teaching that constructs from the most basic elements a humble, yet courageous; peaceful, yet personally demanding; articulate, yet faithful Being. A practical, practicable teaching assiduously undertaken with sincerity can be a major factor in bringing relative Peace and Harmony to this world; and it can be a means of addressing the critical issues we face today.  But that is secondary, more importantly, it gives us a clear and straight means to be aware of our purpose and to be consciously in the presence of the Divine Truth, Compassion and Mercy…Allah swt. By intentionally  applying the teachings of Allah (swt), as articulated in the Quran;  opening the door to reaching higher and higher maqamt; making obvious the link between the Dhahir and the Batin  we fulfill our ultimate destiny and covenant with our Creator.   Today I will talk about several aphorisms that can help us understand how to deepen our perceptions, and live our Islam more free of assumptions and bias , more humbly and insh’Allah more fully. Of course I ask Allah’s forgiveness for my own errors and limitations and hope that we can continue on this process of mining the wealth of this great Shaykh’s insights.

In the 93rd aphorism, Ibn Atala Iskandari, says:

When he gives, he shows you his kindness (bir).  And when he deprives, he shows you his power (qahar).  And in all that, he is making himself known to you and coming to you with his gentleness.

For most of us, it is very difficult to see the mercy and kindness of Allah (swt) when we are denied what we think we need, deserve, or expect.  When we find our basic wants out of reach, we feel threatened; whether it be in the day to day material wants and needs, in the realm of our health and well being, or in the form of power and recognition. But in this aphorism, he is directing us to understand that the denial of Allah is an affirmation, an ayat, of the power of Allah (swt).  He is reminding us that we don’t have the final control ; that every action is under the control of Al Qaharu  The Subduer. Yet he also points out  that Allah (swt) is kind and protecting  Al Wali and  is showing us the attribute of kindness when we are apparently deprived.  So, in both the kindness (bir) and power (qahar) Allah is affirming that Allah is actively present, righteous and the bestower of piety.

How is it that these two seemingly opposite manifestations have the same result?  It is because we are in a dynamic process, part of a dynamic Reality that can compose power and kindness in the form of denial.  That by subduing what emerges is righteousness. This may be contrary to the way we normally think, but it is representative of the unity that is Allah and it testifies to the fact that apparent opposites affirm the totality. Where there is an ‘up’ defined there must be a down’ or where there is ‘hardship’ there must also be ‘ease.’ Not only is Allah (swt) making us aware of the Divine Presence and the reality of our place in the ocean of that Presence, but we are being shown the means to perceive the reality of our state, within Tawhid, within the unity that alone is Allah.

While we don’t think about being denied something, as gentleness or kindness, the overriding power of Allah (swt), is telling us, “what you thought is reality, is not necessarily reality what you thought was truth, or justice is not necessarily truth or justice.  What your expectation is, is not necessarily what is going to transpire.”   Only when you relinquish your attachment to your own perspective, or at least accept that it is flawed, will you be able to see The Real. So abandon your expectations.  (This of course reflects back other teachings of Iskandari on tadbir and the abandoning of self-direction.)  This was the instruction of the Prophet (sal), as reported by Umar ibn Al-Khattab, who said:

“If only you relied on Allah a true reliance, He would provide sustenance for you just as He does the birds: They fly out in the morning empty and return in the afternoon with full stomachs.”

The full talk is availabe in downloadable pdf

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